Douglas Groothuis calls his new apologetics volume, which weighs in at well over 700 pages, "as close to a magnum opus as I will ever have." Groothuis, professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary, has written a number of books about worldview, apologetics, and the gospel, including Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism (IVP) and The Soul in Cyberspace (Wipf and Stock). His latest offering is Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (IVP Academic). Stan Guthrie, a CT editor at large and coauthor of The Sacrament of Evangelism, spoke with Groothuis about his apologetics approach.
What distinguishes this book from other apologetics books?
While there are many good apologetics books out there, it seemed that they were all missing something. For example, a book might be extremely good but not deal sufficiently with the problem of evil, or with Darwinism and intelligent design. And in general, a lot of apologetics books fail to sufficiently address other religions, particularly Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, whose beliefs pose very significant challenges to Christianity today. So I'm not claiming that I necessarily do a better job than some of the great apologists out there, such as J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig. But I tried to put everything germane to the apologetics agenda in one book.
How do you approach apologetics in the current culture?
I think our culture is very pluralistic in a lot of ways. Different pockets of the culture have different perspectives on truth, knowledge, worldviews, and so on. The savvy apologist needs to understand the basic worldviews and epistemologies, and then get a good read on the approaches taken by individual people. You can only do good apologetics when you have some understanding of the perspective of the person or the group you are addressing. Many people have worldviews that are internally inconsistent. They may have a certain amount of folk Christianity or some Hinduism, so the apologist has to sort things out and expose the inconsistencies. We need a kind of existential engagement with people, whereby we genuinely and humbly interact with them—not dump the truth on them or view apologetics as some kind of philosophical game. It is too serious to be anything like that.
Have developments in cyberspace surprised you or confirmed what you addressed in the past?
Some of the basic concerns I had about cyberspace in the mid to late '90s are still there: the lack of personal interaction, the temptation to be absorbed into diversion, and so on.
It's difficult to make a sustained, persuasive argument in some electronic media because of the space limitations, but also because the Internet is not really the best means of communicating about the deepest things in life. It's much better to have face-to-face conversations, or to speak to a group and have a question-and-answer time. In terms of sharing apologetic arguments, there's a lot of activity online, and much of it is truthful and worthwhile as long as it doesn't eclipse other forms of taking it to the streets.
Are you still concerned that these media will take away our capacity to reason and converse in significant ways?
Yes, absolutely. Nicholas Carr's book The Shallows argues that life on the screen doesn't tend to develop intellectual depth. We tend to skim and scan and surf as opposed to deeply enter into the argument of a text. It's possible to cheapen apologetics on the Internet if you are not a well-rooted, intellectually grounded person. At the same time, the Internet allows interaction with a tremendous scope.
A big part of apologetics is not simply the arguments for Christianity and against non-Christian worldviews. It's wisdom. That is, what are the best venues for engaging people apologetically? How do we communicate this life-changing, ultimately significant truth to people such that they will truly listen and engage? In many cases, the Internet is not the best way.
How is this book different from what you might have written 10 or 20 years ago?
One aspect that the years have added is a deeper sensitivity to people's suffering and the necessity of prayer for all of the Christian life, including apologetics. You need good arguments, but it's a matter of engaging people, listening to their heart's cry, being filled with the Spirit, and responding in a Christlike way. I hope that I bring a little more wisdom, a little more maturity, and a bit more awareness of the sufferings and struggles of the world.
What is our greatest challenge today in Christian apologetics?
The greatest challenge is just doing it. Often, for various reasons, apologetics doesn't get into the pulpit. Part of it is fideism, the idea that faith requires no evidence. In fact, some people even pit faith against reason. That's simply bad theology, and bad anthropology.
Many Christian colleges do not require apologetics courses. Many seminaries do not require their divinity students to study apologetics. I think that's deeply wrong. But it is not merely for the professors, the philosophers, and the writers. We are called to love God with all our hearts, souls, strength, and minds; to love our neighbors as ourselves, have a reason for the hope within us, and contend earnestly for the faith. Apologetics is not a peripheral discipline for Christian eggheads. It's right at the center of the kingdom of God.
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Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith is available from Christianbooks.com and other retailers.
Previous Christianity Today coverage of apologetics includes:
Apologetics Makes a Comeback Among Youth | Youth ministry sees the return of reasons. (August 31, 2011)
The Changing Face of Apologetics | Lee Strobel doesn't think the traditional methods work anymore. (June 11, 2009)
A New Day for Apologetics | People young and old are flocking to hear — and be changed by — winsome arguments for the Christian faith. (July 2, 2008)
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